By Mike Mortensen
LACONIA – Candidates for mayor and City Council stressed the importance of controlling spending and encouraging economic development at a candidates' forum in Weirs Beach last night.
About 20 people turned out for the two-hour event held just 12 days before the Nov. 5 city election. The forum was hosted by Weirs Action Committee and moderated by Niel Young.
Mayoral candidates Edward Engler and Kaileif Mitchell emphasized the importance of economic opportunity – an issue which has been a key theme of both men's campaigns.
Engler said that Laconia needs to have the kind of jobs that will attract people to the area.
Mitchell said helping the city become a more popular tourist destination was his top priority.
"I'm more concerned about tourism, concerned about the Weirs and downtown," he said
Both Engler and Mitchell are seeking to succeed Mayor Mike Seymour, who is not running for re-election.
Others participating in the forum held at Weirs Community Center were Ward 2 council candidate Richard Beaudoin, who is running against David Bownes, who did not attend; Ward 3 Councilor Henry Lipman, who is unopposed; Ward 5 Councilor Bob Hamel and his challenger Tom Tardif; and Ward 6 Councilor Armand Bolduc and his opponent Anthony Felch. Ward 1 Councilor Ava Doyle and Ward 4 Councilor Brenda Baer, who are both running unopposed, did not attend.
Mitchell said one way to give the city's tourist-based economy a boost would be to put a casino in Weirs Beach, which he said would bring 500 jobs. He said he did not believe that a casino would cause the kind of crime problems that opponents of expanded gambling claim.
Engler said that Laconia's future depends on demographics and economic vitality.
"We have an aging and graying population. Here in New Hampshire we have an internal conflict between economic vitality and keeping the state the way it's always been. Part of the way it's always been is that we have a lot of poor people. That means we need better paying jobs, and more white-collar jobs," Engler said.
While acknowledging that Laconia has lost manufacturing jobs during the last 20 to 30 years, Lipman noted signs of a rebound in that sector of the city's economy, pointing to Aavid Thermalloy's decision to move its corporate headquarters back to Laconia and to New Hampshire Ballbearing adding to its workforce.
"There's a lot that is positive going on here in Laconia," Lipman said.
Both mayoral candidates, along with candidates for council, talked about the need to keep city spending under control in order to keep tax increases to a minimum.
Both Hamel and Lipman said the council has been able to keep increases in city spending to less than what is allowed under the city's tax cap. But Tardif said that the council needed to be more frugal and said that if elected he would fight to level-fund the budget.
All candidates said they supported the tax cap.
One issue all candidates said would have serious impact on city taxes is the proposal to build a new $43 million county jail. And all said the next mayor and council needed to press county officials and the County Delegation to come up with a less expensive alternative.
Mitchell called the $43 million price tag "astronomically high" and said space could be added for much less by building a second floor to the current facility.
Engler said as mayor he would take a lead in getting the county to come up with a less expensive proposal.
"The tax cap includes the county tax which we have no control over, he said. "Laconia pays 20 percent of the county tax bill. We cannot allow a break in the tax cap because of the county budget." He said that Laconia would have to pay $500,000 a year just for the debt service on the bond for $43 million corrections facility.
Hamel said the cost of the new jail building was not his only concern. He also objected to plans to add staff at a cost of $2.2 million to $2.3 million a year.
"That is something that is going to stick there after the bond (on a new jail) is paid," he said.
Most candidates said they would support efforts that would encourage the revitalization of downtown, Lakeport and Weirs Beach.
They lamented the condition of the Colonial Theater building, but said the city should not get involved in any major way to redevelop the property.
The City Council has approved the establishment of Tax Increment Financing – or TIF – districts in the downtown and Lakeport and is considering whether to establish a third district in Weirs Beach. Most support the concept under which a portion of the additional revenue that comes from property improvements in the district can only be used for infrastructure improvements in that district. But Tardif said he was opposed to the TIF mechanism, which he considered another form of urban renewal.
Engler said initiatives to revitalize the downtown or other parts of the city needed to have broad popular consensus and should not be undertaken just because of special interests.
"If we want to make an effort to improve a certain area of town for all our benefit, that's appropriate," he said.
Lipman said that while it is important for the city to do everything it can to save money it also needs to do things to invest in the city's future.
The issue of mandatory recycling versus pay-as-you-throw as a way to reduce the city trash collection costs dominated the first part of the forum. All the candidates said they now support the mandatory recycling program which went into effect this summer. But Felch said he would push for another look at pay-as-you throw if the recycling program was not meeting its goals.
The city election is Tuesday, Nov. 5.
Last Updated on Friday, 25 October 2013 03:44
BELMONT — Police have charged a Laconia Road man with multiple drug-related offenses for allegedly having a marijuana manufacturing operation in his apartment.
Lt. Rich Mann said yesterday that Patrick M. Robertson, 23, of 356 Laconia Road is charged with one felony count of manufacturing a controlled drug; possession of controlled drug with intent to distribute; endangering the welfare of a child; simple assault; and false imprisonment.
Mann said police went to the home earlier this month in response to a well-being check. He said two adults and a 1-year-old child lived in the one-bedroom apartment.
He said police seized 55 items from the home. They charged Robinson with the above crimes yesterday. He is free on $3,000 personal recognizance bail.
Mann said the seized items ranged from small marijuana saplings to dried and processed marijuana, as well as equipment consistent with what would be found in a marijuana growing operation.
Unable to fit all of the evidence into a police cruiser, Mann said the department needed a town-owned pickup and multiple officers to transport the items to the police department.
Three fifty-six Laconia Road is three single-wide trailers shaped in a "U" pattern. Mann said each apartment is one half of a trailer.
When asked if police found anything in the yards and common areas outside Robertson's apartment, he said no.
Mann said Robertson is scheduled to appear in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division December 5. He said the investigation is ongoing and additional charges and or arrests may be forthcoming.
This is the second reasonably large marijuana growing operation busted by police in the Lakes Region in as many weeks.
Last week, Gilford Police arrested two people who had allegedly utilized a 3-car garage on Governors Island in what police said was a fairly sophisticated marijuana and hashish operation.
Last Updated on Friday, 25 October 2013 03:13
GILFORD — Gilford's town attorney has advised selectmen that two of the buildings owned by LRGHealthcare in Hillside Park meet tax-exempt criteria.
The question arose earlier in April when the hospital applied for its 2013 tax-exempt status, as it has traditionally done and selectmen wanted to understand better what the town attorney thought.
Atty. Robert Ciandella told selectmen that LRGHealthcare meets the requirements and suggested instead to do the research on a PILOT or payment in lieu of taxes.
PILOTs are payments to communities that enjoy a tax-exempt status but voluntarily, and usually after negotiation, pays the community some money, the amount of which is usually based on the cost of the town services it uses.
After approaching LRGHealthcare about making a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for its facility on Maple Street, selectmen learned recently that LRGH will not pay one.
After hearing Ciandella's analysis, selectmen voted unanimously Wednesday to grant them the tax exempt status and not to pursue the matter further.
According to a letter sent to the town on October 14 and signed by the MItchell Jean, Esq. Director of Risk Management and Safety, LRGHealthcare feels the two units on Maple Street are appropriately taxed. One of the three buildings in the complex pays property taxes, however the other two are tax-exempt.
"We appreciate the fact that the town is experiencing financial constraints," he wrote. "The hospital is being subjected by the state to Medicaid Enhancement Taxes (MET) taxation in the millions that is putting severe pressure on the organization's finances."
Advanced Orthopedic Specialists are part of LRGH and are located at Hillside Park on Route 11A. LRGHhealthcare pays property taxes to Gilford on one of the three buildings.
According to Ciandella, LRGH meets the four individual criteria for tax-exemption three of which are – that the institution was established and is administered for a charitable purpose; that an obligation exists to perform the organization's stated purpose to the public rather than simply to members of the organization; and that none of the organization's income or profits are used for any purpose other than for which it was established.
Ciandella said the fourth prong - that the land, in addition to being owned by the organization, is occupied by it and used directly for the stated charitable purpose - required some additional analysis. This is the actual use of the property.
Based on data provided to the town attorney by LRGH, 15 percent of the accounts for two of the three units on the property are held by people who are uninsured, under-insured and those who don't have the ability to pay.
In 2009 LRGHealthcare provided discounts and assistance amounting to $299,256. In 2010 it was $430,515, in 2011 it was $594,294 and in 2012 it was $256,651. These discounts and services amount to 13 percent of LRGHealthcare's net revenue.
In addition, Ciandella concluded the sleep center in one unit is the only source for that service in the county and the Rehabilitation/Therapy Department "is the sole source of integrated and coordinated rehabilitation and therapy (Physical, Occupational, and Speech) including hydro-therapy in the county."
Considering the above, the Ciandella determined LRGHealthcare meets the final prong of the four-prong test.
His legal opinion drew heavily on the standards set by the City of Laconia v. Taylor Community when in 2001 the N.H. Supreme Court upheld Taylor Community's tax-exempt status after a lengthy court battle.
The Taylor Community provides the city of Laconia an annual payment in lieu of taxes.
In Gilford, the Wesley Woods housing community pays a payment in lieu of taxes to the town for eight of its units. The PILOT was negotiated this year as a compromise between the two after three years of disagreements and instead of litigation.
Last Updated on Friday, 25 October 2013 02:59
LACONIA — The Belknap County Commissioners this week announced that while the $554,000 appropriation for the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Association (LRMFAA) will be stripped from the 2014 county budget they recommend to the Belknap County Convention, they cannot ensure that the overall budget will be reduced by an equivalent amount.
The LRMFAA includes 36 municipalities. The 25 in Carroll, Grafton, Merrimack and Strafford counties are billed directly by the LRMFAA according to a formula consisting of a fixed charge along with factors for both total population and assessed valuation. Laconia and the 10 townships of Belknap County have not been billed directly by LRMFAA. Instead, their total share of its budget has been included in the county budget, apportioned among them based solely on their share of the total assessed property valuation of the county and paid through the county property tax. Next year the municipalities of Belknap County will also be billed directly based on the formula applied by the LRMFAA.
The commissioners responded to a letter from the Gilford selectmen seeking assurance that since the appropriation for the LRMFAA would not be included in the county budget, the total appropriations "will reflect this reduction so that all of the municipalities affected will be the beneficiary of a county tax savings to offset, in so much as possible, the municipal tax rate increases that will be necessary to fund LRMFAA operations." The selectmen acknowledged that other factors may affect county expenditures, but sought a commitment that the commissioners recognize the need to reduce the county tax rate by an amount "commensurate" with the increase in municipal tax rates.
In reply, the commissioners reminded the selectmen that when the municipalities of Belknap County are billed directly, Gilford is one of the four whose contribution to the LRMFAA's budget will shrink. They went on to say that "to ensure that the entire county budget will be level funded and then further reduced by more than half a million dollars, would be irresponsible."
The commissioners note that county appropriations have not risen since 2008 and fell significantly this year. As a result, they continued, the county has been able to main or reduce the tax burden for the past five years. "We would certainly like to continue that record," the commissioners declared, but explained that the costs of the services the county is required to provide, most of which are increasing. have yet to be determined.
When the municipalities of Belknap County are billed directly by the LRMFAA their relative shares of the agency's budget will change. This year the the 11 municipalities together paid $554,037, distributed as follows: Alton $81,048, Barnstead $27,350, Belmont $34,381, Center Harbor $22,457, Gilford $88,631, Gilmanton $25,680, Laconia $106,731, Meredith $100,545, New Hampton $17,528, Sanbornton $22,072 and Tilton $27,614.
Billed directly, according to the formula applied by the LRMFAA, four towns — all with extensive waterfront — would have paid less while Laconia and six towns would have paid more. The assessment to Alton would have been reduced by $18,922, to Center Harbor by $4,721, to Gilford by $14,326 and to Meredith by $25,445. On the other hand, the assessment to Laconia would have risen by $17,606, to Barnstead by $9,206, to Belmont by $18,290, to Gilmanton by $6,237, to New Hampton by $3,372, to Sanbornton by $4,527 and to Tilton by $4,176.
Last Updated on Friday, 25 October 2013 02:48